Comics for 17 November 2004
Ex Machina #6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
This is still a wonderful book, but I was a bit let down by this issue, because nothing of substance actually happens. Yes, there's some set-up for the rest of the story arc, but this idea that everything is just the "first chapter" of the trade paperback is really getting ridiculous. Why bother with the monthly "pamphlets" if you're just going to release a trade paperback? Some people have already spoken out about the death of the monthly, but I'm not ready for that yet. I just want more story if I'm spending three dollars for a book. Harris's art is lovely, and the story looks intriguing, but did we really need 8 pages (EIGHT!) to set up Mitch's involvement with the federal government and the beginning of the investigation into the weird symbol that is connected to his powers? Eight pages? Really? Then we have a meaningless three pages showing Mitch officiating a wedding and brushing off a reporter, which I'm sure will be important in later issues, but three pages? Vaughan could have written it in a page. The rooftop conversation with Wylie (the guy with the cornrows) is very nice, and shows again why this book has so much potential -- local politics. Politics is really fascinating, and Vaughan has some nice ideas about it. Then we get the reappearance of the mysterious symbol, which is obviously a big deal in this story, and then the issue of gay marriage comes up (in 2002 -- Mitch is ahead of his time!) as the teaser to next issue. I was disappointed by the ending, because it's so obvious. Of course Mitch is going to be okay with gay marriage -- he's a swell guy! If you read this blog regularly (I know you're one of the millions who do!) you know that I have absolutely no problem with gay marriage -- the more the merrier is my motto -- but wouldn't it be nice, just for a change, to have a character in a comic NOT be okay with something that all good liberals are supposed to support? I mean, I don't know what Vaughan's position on the issue is, and I'm sure there will be sufficient dissenting voices in future issues, but I always get the feeling that comic-book writers, who can usually write believable space manta rays with power rings, cannot write believable conservatives, as if they were more alien than space manta rays with power rings. I hope Vaughan proves me wrong.
Anyway, I haven't talked about the art because it's beautiful. Tony Harris -- six straight issues with no guest artists! Wow!
Despite the feeling that this is all just a set-up, it's still a nice book. I've been hearing bad things about Y: The Last Man recently, so maybe Vaughan has some trouble if he's on a book too long, but so far, he's doing well on this one. It's generally worth the money.
Freaks of the Heartland #1-6 by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth
$2.99, Dark Horse
Niles is, of course, justifiably famous for 30 Days of Night, and he seems to have struck a horror vein and just keeps mining it. 30 Days of Night was a wonderful story, although its sequel, Dark Days, may have been more horrific (I haven't read Return to Barrow yet). Freaks of the Heartland, unfortunately, has not gotten as much press as Niles' vampire work, which is a shame. This is truly one of the best reads of the year.
Part of the problem is the timing of the mini-series. Issue #1 came out in January, and number six came out this week. Not a good way to build readership. I do not understand why, when the publisher knows it's a mini-series, all the issues aren't in the can by the time the first issue comes out. Would it have killed Dark Horse to wait on this one for a few months while Ruth finished the art (the art's beautiful, by the way)? I don't know the ins and outs of the business, but this seems so logical that maybe it's too logical.
But that's neither here nor there. If this comes out as a trade (doesn't everything?) you should buy it. There's a lot of quiet horror here, such as the central mystery of the story. We're never quite sure what happened in "the valley," and Niles refuses to take the easy way out and use one of the characters for exposition. Instead, we get tantalizing hints, and we make up the rest. We're also never quite sure what "powers" the kids have, even though they are shown using them. It's a nice way of allowing the reader to remain outside the situation, where we simply see what's happening and we're forced to understand it on those terms. The last scene is kind of confusing, and not really in a good way, but it doesn't diminish from the story at all. I also was a little confused about where "the valley" was, because there's apparently a pretty large town on the other side of the hill, but no one from the outside ever goes into "the valley." It was just a little weird. Those are minor quibbles, however.
The art is fantastic, evoking a hardscrabble, Oklahoma-in-the-Dust-Bowl kind of life. The freaks are horrific without being inhuman, and some of the panels are double-page spreads, showing the wide open spaces of the farmlands. It's fully painted art, so the colors, despite some (necessary) drabness, are rich and haunting. It's very nice.
This is another example of what can be done with comic books beyond superhero stuff. The art form is slowly but surely expanding outward, and it would be nice if these kinds of things got more attention. Find this mini-series and pick it up. You won't be disappointed.
Human Target #16 by Peter Milligan and Cliff Chiang
Last month I wondered if Milligan was going to explore two things: Christopher Chance losing himself in the role of Paul James, and organized religion. He has had his chance (oh, what a pun!) in this story, and he has only skirted the edges. In this issue, the final one of the arc, he gets into both themes a bit more, although still kind of unsatisfactorily. The first theme, of Christopher getting into a role a little too much, is much better done, and what makes this book so interesting. Who is Christopher Chance? Does he even have a personality? That's when this book is strongest. Milligan's take on organized religion is, as usual with a left-leaning bunch of writers in comics, somewhat condescending. I have no use for organized religion, but I understand the role it plays in many people's lives, and even the far-out cult that Milligan writes about in this book deserves some serious consideration. The "miracle" that occurs in this book plays on people's gullibility, and it's kind of disappointing. If you don't mind a writer picking on religion, then this is a very good book. Even if you do, there's a lot here to read without taking too much offense at the tone toward religion.
One last thing: there's been a lot of talk about violence toward women in comics, especially in the wake of Sue Dibny's gruesome fate in Identity Crisis. True, there's a lot of violence toward men in comics, but the women seem to fare particularly badly. Don't, for instance, get involved in any way with Bruce Wayne if you're a woman. (I always wanted to see Silver St. Cloud come back. Old school Batman fans know who I'm talking about. I want her back, but I'm kind of glad she hasn't shown up, because some writer would kill her immediately.) The point is, a woman dies in this issue. There's no real reason for it, and I'm disappointed in Milligan for including it. He has written many excellent female parts (Kathy and Lenny in Shade come to mind -- even though he killed Kathy in that book, as well) and I'm not suggesting he's misogynistic, I just wish writers would figure out a way to tell a story without brutalizing women. The first time Jean Grey died, I thought it was wonderful and touching and not exploitative at all. In all her subsequent "deaths," it's just ridiculous. That's just my opinion.
The Pulse #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and Brent Anderson
This is what I was hoping for when The Pulse started. No offense to Mark Bagley, but his style didn't really fit the tone the book was trying to establish. Anderson's art on this issue isn't anywhere near as nice as his work on Astro City (his inks seem really heavy here, which isn't a plus), but it's still an improvement over Bagley. The story is more Alias than Ultimate Spider-Man, too, which is nice. I miss Alias, and want Bendis to continue those kinds of stories in The Pulse.
All the normal Bendis tags are here, so I'm not going into them. What I like about this issue is that a lot happens. Yes, it's setting up a story, but unlike Ex Machina, a lot's going on. At the beginning, Wolverine's crying like a little girl as Jessica tells him she's sorry. Then we flashback a week, and a bomb explodes in Luke Cage's apartment. He and Jessica are rushed to the hospital, but they can't operate on Luke because of his unbreakable skin! (Bendis, by the way, is not the first to think of this -- others may have, but I know in an old issue of Justice League Europe, Power Girl was injured and Superman had to operate with his heat vision providing the scalpel.) The cops question Jessica, who tells them a strange woman was in the apartment saying mysterious things to Luke, but that's all she knows. The cops get a weird call from the dispatcher, and they leave abruptly. Then Nick Fury shows up. Then Captain America shows up and says some cryptic things to Fury which indicates he knows quite a bit about the explosion. Then Jessica calls Matt Murdock (her lawyer), but he's not home. She notices some guy watching her, but he runs for it. As she chases him, there's a massive explosion right outside the hospital. She checks on Luke, but he's gone!!!!! Jessica doesn't know what to do.
There. Now you don't have to buy it! But you should. Bendis is at the top of his game in this (unlike, say, in Avengers) and the mystery is very intriguing. The name of the arc is "Secret War," which makes me hope it's not tied into his mini-series of the same name (which I'm not buying, since the issues come out once every six months or so -- I'll definitely wait for the trade). If it is tied in, I hope you can read The Pulse without reading Secret War. Either way, this is a nice beginning to the next story, and a rebound from the mildly entertaining but somewhat disappointing first arc.
Ultimate X-Men #53 by Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Kubert, and Danny Miki
The coolest thing about this issue is the last page, and Alison's comment. That's kind of sad. The thing I don't like about this issue is the same thing I like about it. Confused, you say? Well, I like the infighting among the team, but I don't like it. I like it because it seems like something forceful personalities would do (remember the Minutemen?) and also it seems like something teenagers would do (they do it often enough in real life). However, I don't like it because the X-Men don't look like teens in this book, nor has there been a lot of infighting recently. It seems like it comes out of nowhere in this issue. Maybe I've been missing it, but I didn't see any connection between Wolverine and Rogue any more than Rogue did. In the "real" X-Men, Wolverine didn't like Rogue anymore than the other X-Men, but she earned his respect. Here, Storm just says it's true. And Bobby's acting like a true jerk in this issue, which is fine, but it has seemed to come out of nowhere in this story. I don't mind different writers handling short arcs on books, but make sure you're consistent with what others have done before, please! Vaughan's story also lasted four issues, and probably could have been done in two. There just wasn't a lot going on here. Fenris could have been a cool villain (you'll recall my love of Fenris from last month), but they just lose it here for no discernible reason. I don't really know what the point of this story was, except to reintroduce Gambit and have Rogue quit the team. But the last page is still cool.